In the year and a half of remote and hybrid teaching, working and learning at UGA, campus technology played “a bridging role,” Timothy M. Chester, vice president of technology, said during his 2021 State of Technology address.
During the address to more than 170 participants via Zoom, Chester presented data from the 2021 TechQual survey, which showed an increase in end-user satisfaction and positive perceptions of campus IT from students, faculty and staff. EITS has been collecting data on customer opinions of campus IT through the TechQual survey since 2013, and satisfaction has consistently improved over the years, with 2021 being a banner year for IT performance at UGA.
“Based on this data, people tend to have very positive perceptions of IT services here at our institution. This is data that was collected after a year where people are much more aware of how critical IT is to do their jobs, and they depended on IT to do their jobs in ways they never depended on it before,” Chester said. “As vice president for IT, I have really fond impressions of the hard work everyone has done. This is their success story.”
During his address, Chester covered six key areas of campus technology and gave insights into future improvements and challenges.
- Responding to the pandemic: Eliminating redundant services and having a standardized set of tools for teaching and learning helped the university pivot smoothly to online instruction in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chester said. Ensuring faculty had access to the same key services—Zoom, Teams, eLearning Commons (eLC), Kaltura and vLab—helped reduce confusion over what tools to use. “In two weeks, we were an online university. Having a standard toolbox was critical,” he said. Chester said there will be many lessons learned from the pandemic, and getting more feedback from faculty is key. He is working with University Council on the formation of a formal IT steering committee to solicit feedback from faculty on technology changes and improvements.
- Enhancing student success: The recent upgrade of Athena and Banner to Banner 9 gave students and faculty mobile-friendly access to core services for class registration. A new classroom scheduling tool, 25Live, offers cloud-based, self-service access to faculty needing to reserve space on campus. Upgrades are planned for DegreeWorks, a web-based tool students and advisors use to track progress toward degree completion. Also on the horizon is the introduction of a Comprehensive Learner Record, which will make it easier to record and track students’ experiential learning progress.
- Facilitating greater research collaborations: EITS technicians are in the midst of a three-year, $1.3 million project to upgrade network connections in all major buildings, enabling 10gb connectivity for core research facilities. UGA’s Georgia Advanced Computing Resource Center (GACRC) also recently became a member of the Globus data sharing consortium, enabling greater sharing of research data with other universities. Chester said EITS will continue to work to expand the compute capabilities of the GACRC to support the university’s new investment in 50 AI/machine learning research positions.
- Building next generation Infrastructure: EITS continues to make improvements to wireless access at UGA, with a $1 million investment in connectivity and access in university facilities and another $1 million investment in improving wireless access in outdoor spaces. Remote work during the pandemic taught the UGA community a lot about video and online collaboration, Chester said, and the future includes a convergence of these technologies with UGA’s telephone system. A merger of desktop phones with video collaboration tools, such as Zoom, is on the horizon to help support remote work.
- Continual information security enhancements: New building edge firewalls, a $2.6 million investment, provide enhanced security and block malicious attacks. Machine learning ransomware protection also augments UGA’s current malware protections and helps the Office of Information Security stay on top of evolving threats. A ransomware tabletop exercise is planned for early 2022 to raise awareness of potential ransomware attacks and identify business continuity issues if a ransomware attack were to occur.
- Continual business process improvements: Upgrades and enhancements to UGA’s core financial, budget, purchasing and associated systems have created new efficiencies while reducing administrative burden. Additionally, the university-wide Data Warehouse now provides a single repository for data, facilitating better data quality, data management and data handling. Over the next three years, business process systems will be moved to the cloud to improve availability and reliability while minimizing infrastructure costs.